BOSTON (CBS) — “Hi baby, hi sweet girl,” coos Jill Bradshaw to her 1-year-old daughter Elise, who is hearing her for the first time at a Boston hospital.
And with that, Elise becomes the youngest infant in the United State to receive an Auditory Brain Stem Implant. Elise was born deaf. She could hear nothing. Her medical problems meant a traditional cochlear implant wouldn’t work, but then she was enrolled in a pediatric clinical trial at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.
Doctors there performed complex and delicate brain surgery that worked. Cell phone video captured the miracle moment when an audiologist activated the implant. Elise turns toward the source of a sound. “I was just a nervous wreck going into that room that it wouldn’t work,” says Jill Bradshaw. But it did work. “I couldn’t stop grinning probably for 3 days. I was just smiling ear to ear,” she adds. Her parents were ecstatic. “It’s so emotional. I love you, that’s all you can say is I love you,” says Jill. “It makes the world a lot bigger for her now than it would have been,” says Elise’s father Jason.
Dr. Daniel Lee and a team from Mass Eye and Ear and Massachusetts General Hospital performed the auditory brain stem implant in March, just before Elise turned one. “This is where the work begins, the work of learning how to hear for the first time,” says Dr. Lee. Because Elise was born without hearing nerves a cochlear implant wouldn’t help her, but the brainstem implant does by stimulating the brain directly. “It converts sound to an electronic signal and that signal is then sent to the brain by way of an electrode that’s placed on the surface of the brain,” says Dr. Lee.
And for the first time Elise hears, though not the same as we do. Now she has to learn to interpret the signals. “It would mean the world to me for her to be able to say I love you and for her to hear me say I love her,” says Jill.
The hope is that Elise will one day be able to understand spoken words, but no one can tell how much success she’ll have. If the clinical trial succeeds it’s possible the implant will be approved for young children. Right now it’s approved only for teens and adults. Two more surgeries on young kids are scheduled at Mass Eye and Ear in the coming months.
In the meantime the Bradshaws continue to learn sign language and teach Elise a baby version. Though they want their daughter to be part of the hearing world, they also want her to connect with the deaf community.
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